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Das Rheingold review 

Review from the Herald Sun

Simon Plant of the Herald Sun reviewed opening night of Das Rheingold

People say the Ring cycle can change your life.

We shall see about that. But one thing is certain after Opera Australia lifted the curtain on the first part of its $20 million production of Richard Wagner's 16-hour masterwork: this is not going to be a conventional Ring.

Das Rheingold opens in the depths of the Rhine River. In Neil Armfield's version for Opera Australia, its more like the banks of the Yarra with people cavorting about in cossies and board shorts.

Later, when Wagner's Rhinemaidens are building a rainbow bridge to Valhalla, Armfield conjures up a chorus line of Tivoli lovelies who look as though they've strayed in from a production of Chicago.

It's eye-popping theatre - all feathers and frou frou - and a world away from the rather cool, formal Ring I saw in Adelaide in the late 1990s. But, for the most part, it works.

That's because Armfield rations showy moments between austere, almost minimalist passages. His evocation of a watery underworld, full of caves and grottos, is superbly achieved by designers Robert Cousins and Damien Cooper.

Armfield - a skilled storyteller - also has a firm grip on Wagner's otherworldly tale of gods and monsters. Rheingold, a "preliminary evening'' in the cycle, is essentially about greed - about getting gold and keeping it, even if that means renouncing love - and this finely honed production rarely loses sight of that. Except for the odd over-dose of vaudeville.

On opening night, conductor Pietari Inkinen drew a rich and surging score from the Melbourne Ring Orchestra. There were formidable performances, too, from Terje Stensvold as a magisterial Wotan (lord of the Gods), Deborah Humble as an affecting Erda (the earth goddess) and Warwick Fyfe as the villainous dwarf Alberich. Fyfe, stepping into the shoes of John Wegner at the last minute, proves he is not only a world-beating baritone but an actor of considerable skill.

First performed in 1876, Wagner's Der Ring des Nibelungen (to use its full name) comprises four operas - each one longer than the next and performed consecutively over a week. OA is repeating the cycle three times and it will be fascinating to watch Armfield's cast gain confidence and draw out the poignant and profound elements of the story.

"All that is ... will end,'' one character warns in Rheingold. I, for one, cannot wait to see how this Ring ends.

Read more at the Herald Sun.


Image: The Rainbow Girls in Opera Australia's The Melbourne Ring Cycle 2013. Picture: Jeff Busby for Opera Australia